Arkansas' Pinto wins individual title; UGA looks to carry success into match play

Savannah Richardson, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·5 min read

Apr. 24—The stroke portion of the 2021 SEC Men's Golf Championship has come to an end as another individual champion has been crowned.

Arkansas' Segundo Pinto won by two strokes over Georgia's Spencer Ralston to claim the title as he shot 6 under through three rounds of play.

He came into the final day one stroke behind Ralston, and Pinto said he knew he would have to be mentally tough to get the job done.

"Given the magnitude of this event, I thought this was probably my toughest round mentally that I've ever played because I was playing with two really good players," Pinto said. "Spencer Ralston was leading, and he's just amazing when it comes to playing golf. Every shot, even when I was leading, I just kept telling myself that I still had to keep pushing. That gave me an edge. I made two good putts on 16 and 17 and got the job done. So I'm really happy."

However, those two putts weren't the ones that gave him the advantage — it was on the front nine when he mentally got past three-putting on No. 6 to capitalize on the seventh hole.

"I think the biggest putt today actually was on seven," Pinto said. "Both of them were putting for par from like four or five feet. I came from a three-putt on six — I had a 30-footer up the hill and then down. I made it, and then they both missed, and that was like the breaking point for me. That's what gave me the biggest advantage of the day."

Associate head coach for Arkansas, Barrett Lais, followed Pinto all day and was there for him throughout the day. He said Pinto was aggressive where he needed to be, and on a course like Seaside, he had to be.

"All week, Segundo drove the ball great. He played smart and hit all his lines. When he got inside 150 — he went up to the pin," Lais said. "He didn't make a lot of mistakes all week. It was perfect golf. As long as I didn't point in the wrong direction, he would hit it straight and be in the right position.

"So I'm proud of him — he handled the pressure. Spencer Ralston played great — made some putts coming down the stretch to tighten it up. Segundo did a good job of staying in the moment, going through his pre-shot routines and executing."

It was a windy day, so there weren't a whole lot of scoring opportunities, Lais said, so when Pinto got his scoring club in his hands, he found ways to take advantage of those opportunities. While Pinto said it was the putt on seven that made a difference, Lais said it was from the first hole that it showed.

"He got off to a great start," Lais said. "He hit a drive right in the middle on one and hit a wedge in from 108 yards into pretty much a gimmie putt. That just kind of got the ball rolling, and he just never looked back."

Pinto came to Fayetteville in the fall and performed well, and then he had an up-and-down spring. However, he knows what the feeling of being a conference champion feels like, and it seemed like he played into that on Friday.

"He has the resume — been in U.S. amateurs," Lais said. "He's been in the Sweet 16 — he won the UNC-Wilmington conference championship as an individual. Now he's won the SEC. I guess in conference championships — he plays great."

Pinto was emotional about the win, and it showed after he finished.

"As a senior in college, I was still trying to find a school that wanted me to play for them," Pinto said. "Now I'm an SEC champion — it's quite incredible. I worked my way up, and it's just amazing."

While Pinto won the individual crown, the Bulldogs managed to demolish the rest of the field in stroke play by eight shots. They finished with +2 while second-place Alabama, LSU and Tennessee were +10.

Rounding out the top eight, who will play this weekend was Arkansas 5th with a +12, in 6th Vanderbilt with a +13, South Carolina 7th with a +15 and Texas A&M at +16 in the final spot.

Georgia head coach Chris Haack said he's proud of what his team has done so far but knows the rest of the week is anyone's game.

"We have played really well and put together some solid rounds. But we all know that the job's not done yet. We have a tough road ahead of us in match play. This is perhaps the most challenging conference in the country, so anyone you square off against is going to be formidable."

For the next two days, the top eight teams will battle it out in match play. As the No.1 seed, Georgia will take on No. 8 Texas A&M with tee times starting at 7:30 a.m.

No. 2 Alabama takes on No. 7 South Carolina, then No. 3 seed Tennessee will play No. 6 Vandy, and No. 4 seed LSU will take on No. 5 Arkansas.

The teams will play 36 holes on Saturday, then the finals will be on Sunday and will be televised on the SEC Network. Georgia is looking to capture its seventh SEC title, the most in the league.